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Silliman speaks to Lions Club on OPED progress

by Bradly Gill | July 23, 2021 at 5:00 a.m.
Photo by Bradly Gill James Lee Silliman, Executive Director of the Ouachita Partnership for Economic Development spoke to the Camden Lions Club about recent economic activity in Ouachita County.

Though he's the Executive Director of the Ouachita Partnership for Economic Development, James Lee Silliman is quick to point out the old adage "There is no I in team.". Silliman explained the teamwork involved in economic development at Wednesday's Lions Club meeting.

"We do prospect new leads on her own, but we do work very closely with the state of Arkansas and whenever they have an industrial prospect they think will fit well in our area, I'm the point of contact they reach out to, " Silliman said.

"In the last few weeks, the activity and my contacts with AEDC (Arkansas Economic Development Council) have picked up and we've some prospect visits," he said.

Silliman said a typical prospect visit consists of a video presentation as well as a list of 100 questions about a proposed site ranging from utilities to rail access.

Silliman provided a hand out that showed since 2015 OPED projects have provided $219.8 million dollars in investment and 719 jobs, with the highest coming from Aerojet Rocketdyne and Lockheed Martin investing $210 million dollars and creating 693 jobs.

He also touted OPED's success in helping Dollar General open two stores, one in Chidester and the other new location on Cash road in Camden.

"The growth is here, I see the potential for more growth, " he said.

Another aspect of OPED's contributions is the Camden Accelerated Business Services which according to its website "provides services to small and minority businesses in Camden and Ouachita County. The Center provides space for training, coaching, and consultation for both existing and startup businesses."

Silliman said this service is free of charge to business owners and noted that Native Dog Brewing and Artesesna Soaps are just two of the recent success stories of CABS.

He also spoke about the development of Opportunity Zones, and while the long touted tracts are still short on details. Silliman that zones downtown will allow investors in to invest capital gains with some sort of tax relief.

"It's not just industrial, It's retail development," he said.

Silliman also said that work is being done to revitalize the timber industry since Ouachita County is considered the "heart of Arkansas' timber basket. A recent study conducted by the University of Arkansas at Monticello's School of Forestry noted a net gain of 9.4 million tons of timber per year.

Silliman ended with noting that the Highland Pellets project was still underway to be built in Ogemaw.

According to a 2020 Talk Business and Politics article, "Highland Pellets is a Pine Bluff-based wood pellet producer that supplies sustainably-sourced renewable biomass for export where it is used as fuel."

Silliman said that he had been working with lobbyist and the CEO of Highland Pellets Tom Reilley to introduce legistlation in the Arkansas legislature that passed nearly unanimously.

"Basically, it's what it does, companies that utilize wood waste would be eligible for tax credit, " Silliman said.

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